ATV Will Only Pull Start (Mechanic explains why)


Pull starting an ATV can be pretty strenuous work, especially if you’re starting it several times a day. Letting it idle all day isn’t a solution to the problem either.

The top 6 reasons an ATV will only start with the pull starter, include:

  1. Faulty battery
  2. Loose/corroded battery cables
  3. Faulty starter solenoid
  4. Faulty starter motor
  5. Blown fuse
  6. Faulty starter circuit

In this post you’ll learn all about the most likely causes of your no start, how to diagnose them and how to fix them.

Main fuse

The main fuse is easy to check and is a simple fix, and so it makes sense to check it first. So, if you’re missing all lights from the dash panel, go ahead and check the fuse.

It’s usually located close to the battery. The fuse may be blown, dirty or corroded. Using a fuse that’s too small will cause it to blow prematurely, so check your manual for the correct size.

Faulty Battery

The battery is crucial to the proper running of your ATV’s electrical system. Sure some ATV’s will run without a battery but that isn’t advised.

The charging system is designed to charge a healthy battery and when a battery isn’t present it can fry mission critical components like stator and regulator rectifier.

Your battery is designed to start your engine, the charging system takes over to supply the power demands of the bike when running but also and importantly to replenish battery power.

Testing battery Voltage

Go ahead and turn the lights on if they’re dim, you can bet you found your problem, a faulty or flat battery.

If you have a DVOM, then go ahead and connect it up, set the meter to 20v DC – Red test cable to positive (+) pole of battery and the black test cable to the negative pole (-) of the battery.

Most ATV’s are 12 volt systems, some older bikes may run 6 volt systems, either way the voltage will be marked on the battery casing.

Hold the test leads firmly on the battery and record the reading.

  • 12.65 volts 100% charged
  • 12.4 volts 75% charged
  • 12.2 volts 50% charged
  • 12.0 volts 25% charged
  • 11.9 volts discharged (Flat)

A reading below 12.4 volts and your ATV may struggle to crank the engine.

If your battery is low, you can attempt to jump start from another vehicle or charge your battery with a battery charger.

Battery Load Testing

Checking the voltage is only the first part of checking your battery state of health. Your battery will need to be at least 75% charged for this test. So if it’s soft, you’ll need to charge it.

Cranking Battery Test – It is possible for a faulty battery to show a full 12.65 volts. For this test we’ll connect a DVOM to the ATV and have a helper attempt to crank it over. If the battery voltage on the DVOM reads below 9.6 volts while cranking for 3-4 seconds, you’ll need to make a trip to the auto store and buy a new battery.

Buying A Battery

Two batteries are common, traditional wet lead acid battery or the newer dry glass matt. Either will suit your machine. You can buy online but the batteries are shipped dry.

You’ll need to get the electrolyte locally as they won’t ship it. After you fill it you’ll need to charge it for about 3-4 hours with a regular charger.

Alternately, just do it the old school way – go to a parts store in person and buy a fully assembled charged battery, then it’s plug and play.

Loose or Corroded Terminals

Loose battery terminals is a common cause of no starts. It prevents the proper battery voltage getting to the starter motor and also prevents the stator charging the battery fully.

Corrosion is a problem too. The traditional wet lead acid battery leak as they get older and the acid causes a crusty white deposit on the terminals. This sets up high resistance in the wiring and just like loose terminals it prevents proper starting and charging.

To clean the terminals, use some basking soda and water, but you’ll need to wear glasses and gloves, acid is nasty.

Remove the terminals, clean with sandpaper and apply a coat of petroleum jelly after refitting, this helps prevent corrosion.

Faulty Starter Solenoid

The solenoid on most ATV’s is a stand alone component. Others may combine the starter and solenoid and well cover them later.

The function of the starter solenoid is to activate the starter motor. It does this by connecting battery positive to the stater motor positive terminal when you hit the start button.

Solenoids have internal moving parts and wear out regularly. They commonly offer a click sound when they fail, but not always.

Testing The Solenoid

For this test the ATV should be in neutral with the brake on.

This is a pretty simple test, disconnect the solenoid control wires. These are the small wires not the main red power cables. Using two jumper wires, attach one to negative battery and the other to positive.

The engine will crank over if the solenoid is good. If the engine doesn’t crank over, your solenoid is probably at fault but other possibilities remain:

  • Engine ring gear damage
  • Starter motor issue

To eliminate these as possibilities, cross the solenoid poles. That’s the two red heavy cable connectors of the solenoid. Use a screwdriver with plastic handle. The contacts will arc a little, but no danger as long as there’s no gas about.

If your engine cranks over, go ahead and replace your starter solenoid.

If, on the other hand, the engine doesn’t turn over, go ahead an pull the starter for further inspection.

ATV Starter Motor Testing

ATV starter motors have arguably one of the toughest jobs on an ATV, spinning the motor over fast enough to fire the engine.But these little guys are surprisingly tough, they last for many years without even a thought.

ATV starters come in 3 main flavours, with or without solenoid and with Bendix or without. And finally one way clutch starter motor.

The solenoid you know about but what’s a Bendix and a one way thingy ma-jig?

The starter Bendix is an additional feature of a starter motor where the drive gear of the starter motor shoots out to meet and turn the engines ring gear.

A spring sends it back in after the engine starts. If the Bendix and starter were to stick in the engaged position, the running engine would destroy the starter motor.

The one way clutch is a common starter type and it has a clutch system, its drive gear remains in contact with the ring gear but a clutch overrides it when the engine starts.

Testing ATV Starter Motor

You’ll need to remove it to bench test. Couple of bolts and a power cable usually. With the starter out, check the drive gear for damage and also inspect the engine ring-gear, turn over the engine by hand to check the teeth.

Starter on the bench or in a vice, turn the drive gear, it should be smooth and free. Connect a battery and jumper cables as per diagram.

If it fails to spin, recondition your starter motor.

Faulty Starter Circuit

ATV starter circuits are usually pretty basic, a typical ATV starter motor will require the following components in order to activate.

  • Safety lock out switch – On clutch lever or a neutral switch on transmission
  • Ignition switch powered through the main fuse
  • Start Button
  • Solenoid
  • Starter
  • Battery

Safety lock-out – Neutral switch or a clutch switch is common. The switch when activated completes the starter circuit by providing a ground path (usually).

If the switch is faulty or wiring damaged the solenoid won’t have a ground path and so won’t engage.

Ignition switch – Obviously plays a big part in the starting sequence. The ignition powers up the dash lights, removes the CDI box ground path, and supplies the the start button with voltage. If the ignition fails to power the start button, the voltage won’t reach the solenoid.

Start button – It’s a simple on off switch, it receives power from the ignition and when pressed, sends voltage to the starter solenoid. Any fault here will prevent the solenoid operating.

Your starter circuit may employ relays, check around and under the seat area. Relays click when activated, but clicking doesn’t mean they’re good. Swapping relays out is a useful test as ATV’s will usually have more than one and the often identical, light circuits use relays too.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an certified mechanic and writer on ATVFixed.com. I’ve been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of ATV ownership, from maintenance, repair to troubleshooting.

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